It has been a rather long while since I’ve been in this space, since I’ve put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard. You may be wondering: “Well, where have you been?” Since truly and completely answering such a query would take much time and energy–not mine, necessarily, mind you, but yours in the reading of it–it’s probably best if I simply reply, à la Tolkien’s Gandalf:
“Wherever I have been, I am back!”
Of the Battle
And to what have I returned? It’s said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. However, I’d posit that with regard to censorship, things have not stayed the same during the time between my last blog post; no, sadly, they’ve gotten worse. Infringement on intellectual freedom has become more prevalent, attacks on librarians have become more virulent, and violations of readers’ rights are more common than ever.
Friends, it would appear that we are in a battle. It is not one of our choosing; it is one which we enter into reluctantly, though necessarily. There are many ways that we can combat this problem of censorship, and what I believe are some of its main catalysts, fear and hatred, certainly among the great issues of our time and all time. They run the gamut between the proactive and the reactive and include advocacy, legal action, involvement in and support of organizations dedicated to protecting our freedoms and rights, familiarity with district policies and further-reaching laws, and much more. All of these are worthy pursuits. Yet I would like to focus on the interactive; that is, specifically, engaging in a dialogue with our students about the importance of FReadom and the consequences of its disappearance and destruction.
Of Bans/Bullying, Bravery, and Books
It takes a great deal of bravery for anyone, child or adult, to stand up to bullies. That’s what this surge in censorship is, really: wide-ranging, organized bullying. One way that we can both participate in conversation with our students about censorship-bullying and help them (and, indeed, ourselves) to take a stand against it is by providing them with good role models–examples of moral strength and mental fortitude. The best place to find such characters? In the school library, of course! I don’t mean the librarians–well, not in this instance anyway, though the shoes and capes fit us and we definitely wear them, and we are certainly characters. I’m referring instead to young people, kids just like our students, who are the protagonists of the books in our school libraries.
In these texts, children are the ones stepping up to the plate and taking on the challenges, literally and figuratively. They’re the conscientious objectors, the champions, the rebels, and the heroes. The stories’ plots and the actions of the characters provide a playbook for a type of activity that John Lewis famously called “good trouble.” On the pages, readers can find principled people to whom they can actually relate, and who they can emulate. Perhaps you’ve already read some of these tomes, and maybe they’re even on the shelves of your library; or maybe not. Either way, they’re worth cracking open, and being used as the foundation of some truly meaningful booktalks, discussions, and lessons.
- The Library of Ever and Rebel in the Library of Ever–Zeno Alexander
- The Landry News–Andrew Clements
- Suggested Reading–Dave Connis
- The List and The Last Lie–Patricia Forde
- Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics–Chris Grabenstein
- Ban This Book–Alan Gratz
- Attack of the Black Rectangles–Amy Sarig King
- Answers in the Pages–David Levithan
- Property of the Rebel Librarian–Allison Varnes
The above titles are rooted in reality; some do not come with neatly tied-up, fairy-tale endings, but are rather bittersweet instead. They therefore reflect more closely the world in which we’re currently living, and in so doing, better inform students (and teachers) who read, explore, and reflect upon them about what’s at stake. These books and others like them (if you have more to recommend, please drop me a line or comment below) can prepare anyone who peruses their pages for a sound and strong defense of his/her/their right to read; and with their characters as role models and inspiration, we, librarians and students together, can hold fast to our principles and standards and stand firm on the bedrock of our faith and belief in the freedom to read and the inherent justice of access and choice for all.
A catastrophe is defined as “a momentous tragic event ranging from extreme misfortune to utter overthrow or ruin,” “utter failure,” “a violent and sudden change…or event.” Although censorship is ongoing rather than singular in form and process, it is obvious that it can definitely be categorized as catastrophic–catastrophic in its effects on everything from candor to careers to creativity.
In reading these books’ pages–and indeed, any book or story where those who dare to do so rise up against oppression–we, school librarians and students together, can find and gather strength to move forward and onward, stand up and speak out, fight the good fight and get in good trouble, confidently saying to ourselves, in the words of Amanda Gorman:
“…while we once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?,
Now we assert
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?”
References and Further Reading:
Admin. “Intellectual Freedom: Issues and Resources.” Advocacy, Legislation & Issues, 30 Mar. 2019, www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom.
“Definition of Catastrophe.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 12 Mar. 2023, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/catastrophe.
Ncac. “Resources for Students – National Coalition Against Censorship.” National Coalition Against Censorship, 26 May 2022, ncac.org/resources-for-students.
—. “Youth Censorship Database – National Coalition Against Censorship.” National Coalition Against Censorship, 28 Jan. 2022, ncac.org/youth-censorship-database.
PBS NewsHour. “WATCH: Amanda Gorman Reads Inauguration Poem, ‘The Hill We Climb.’” YouTube, 20 Jan. 2021, www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZ055ilIiN4.
Unite Against Book Bans. “Toolkit – Unite Against Book Bans.” Unite Against Book Bans, 8 Mar. 2023, uniteagainstbookbans.org/toolkit.
Author: Lia Fisher Janosz
I am Regina Libris.
I’m…a Bibliothecaria Rebellatrix (“librarian…because Book Wizard isn’t an official job title,” at Sharon Elementary School in Alleghany County, VA) wending a way through the seven ages whilst geeking out over Shakespeare & sundry other stuff. I am rather like Hermione Granger and have “conjured” floating candles in our school library. I’m an admirer of Eowyn and would place myself somewhere in the middle of the shieldmaiden-healer spectrum. I am inimitable, I am an original, and yet I am totally #TeamHamilton (see what I did there?). I’m a graduate of the Longwood University School Librarianship program and an avid reader and lifelong learner (and, apparently, Mistress of the Obvious as well). Any rumors regarding me having a crush on either Stephen Colbert or Chris Martin (or Benedict Cumberbatch or Andrew Scott) are completely…irrefutable. That being acknowledged, I am the loyal consort of an unsung prince of Poland and very proud mother of a tornadic, talented, and talkative wunderkind girl and a happyhopper jollyjumper bouncyboy who has a memory like an elephant.
Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Intellectual Freedom, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models
I see what you did there with the picture of the kids. Nice touch!